Michelle Pfeiffer – Hollywood’s most underrated actress makes a sensational return
Michelle Pfeiffer’s star-blasting turn in mother! is already picking up an Oscar buzz. Could it be fourth time lucky for this most popular and mercurial of actresses?
Michelle Pfeiffer, where have you been? Popular and beautiful, mercurial and always memorable, she has been missing for too long. In a sensational return to form, she’s back on the big screen in mother!, a challenging psychological thriller by Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky.
At the Venice Film Festival, Pfeiffer said that her character – called only “woman” – was described as a gargoyle. “At first I thought that was insulting,” she says, “but it is good because she is a gargoyle. She’s up there watching everything.” Playing opposite co-star Jennifer Lawrence, Pfeiffer said her character was “…a little older and a little wiser and I think she is trying to help.”
In a film that the director describes as a “cruise missile shooting into a wall”, Pfeiffer and Ed Harris are a couple who sense that there’s something strained in Lawrence’s relationship with partner Javier Bardem. It’s a tricky role but that is Pfeiffer’s stock in trade.
Fearless and disregarding of her own beauty, it took Pfeiffer five films to be taken seriously by Hollywood, finally, in 1983’s Scarface, playing mobster Al Pacino’s beautiful, icy trophy wife Elvira. And while we may have been drawn initially by Pfeiffer’s beauty, we’re held in a trance by her subtle portrayals in roles such as the devastating yet cunning beauty Madame de Tourvel in Stephen Frears’ Dangerous Liaisons, the slinky lounge singer Susie Diamond in The Fabulous Baker Boys and as Lurene Hallett in Love Field – all disparate parts which earned her Oscar nominations.
Pfeiffer also shone in roles that didn’t catch the eye of the Oscars jury – such as the sultry, smart divorcee who falls in love with Daniel Day-Lewis in Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence, and, of course, as one of the best villains of them all: Catwoman in Tim Burton’s 1992 iteration of Batman Returns. Here, Pfeiffer is not just a stunning blonde swathed in black latex – she’s a woman who sees her only chance to live her life is as a vengeful feline.
“I’ve always had this feeling that one day they’re going to find out that I’m a fraud”
But a talent like Pfeiffer’s being away from Hollywood is like having a fully-loaded private jet just sitting there in the garage, no? What was she doing all this time? “I’m an empty nester now,” Pfeiffer said, recently opening up about her hiatus. “I’ve never lost my love for acting. I feel really at home on the movie set. I’m a more balanced person, honestly, when I’m working. But I was pretty careful about where I shot, how long I was away, whether or not it worked out with the kids’ schedule. And I got so picky that I was unhireable … I disappeared, yeah.”
Despite Pfeiffer’s roles varying hugely, her performances are always indelible moments wedged firmly in our memories. She’s not of Hollywood stock, however, nor has she had any elite training. Pfeiffer says that if she feels a bit fraudulent, it’s because “I started working fairly quickly and I wasn’t ready. I didn’t have any formal training. I didn’t come from Juilliard. I was just getting by and learning in front of the world. So I’ve always had this feeling that one day they’re going to find out that I’m really a fraud, that I really don’t know what I’m doing.”
Talk on the film circuit is that Pfeiffer’s star-blasting turn in mother! is a stand-out – and could even get the 59 year-old an Oscar win. After three nominations and giving audiences endless thrills, it’s about time for Hollywood’s most underrated actress.